George Charmbury, designer for John & Thomas Clark, 1923 – 1970
George Charmbury was born in Trowbridge in 1909. His father was a stoker at the weaving mill J. & T. Clark, ensuring that the steam engines were started ready for 6am each morning.
George started working in the warping shop at Clarks in 1923 when he was 14 years old. He had the very repetitive job of warping, i.e. preparing the chains of yarn to go on the looms. He was unsure of what he wanted to do but quickly realised that warping was not challenging enough. Fortunately, the mill workers were allowed to attend lessons at the Victoria Institute one afternoon per week, and it was here George discovered his love for designing.
In 1929 he was lucky to receive a scholarship to attend the Scottish Woollen Technical College, Galashiels, where he received a first in all his exams. This was a testimony to George’s dedication and determination to advance from the warping shop to the more rewarding job of designer.
Soon after his return from Galashiels he was employed as a cloth designer at Clarks.
For over forty years George continued to design for the ladies’ trade. George strayed from only working with the traditional designs like Tartans, Herringbone and Houndstooth. From his notebooks we can see that he visited clients like Burberry, Gor-Ray and Jaeger. By the late twenties Jaeger had become a significant force in fashion. They produced elegant and fashionable clothes at moderate prices. The interwar years was the heyday of the tweed suit and it is very likely that the tweed seen in one of his sample books was sold to Jaeger. His sample books show the shift in focus for the designs. For a female audience, the patterns are larger, the shapes organic and the colours brighter. He experimented with weaving small animal motifs to decorate ladies’ skirts. George had left the ‘security’ of the established traditional patterns which had been part of the ‘status quo’ for decades. Instead he became part of a generation of mill designers who took the first steps towards more creative freedom.
In 1992 he donated many of his sample books to Trowbridge Museum. Today they give us a unique opportunity not only to discover the changing fashion in cloth patterns, but also an insight into George’s own professional development and talent for creating unique and appealing designs which were, as George put it in an 1992 interview, ‘All my own thinking… Not copied from anybody.’
So where did George get his inspiration? George goes on to explain: ‘Wherever I go my eyes are on what people are wearing, not their face…your mind is always on what you’re going to make next’.
George left Clarks in 1970 and worked at McCalls before retiring in 1974.